Day 5

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saturday started with a big breakfast of eggs, home fries, tortillas, and enchiladas with fresh green chili sauce leftover from an amazing dinner the night before. We will travel onward knowing superior methods of how to roast and peel chilies, and how to warm tortillas without turning them to cardboard. After breakfast, Ginny packed food to make dinner and we headed out to the ranch.

But not without Zorrita who is clearly in charge of the Johnson-Gonzales household:

The ranch is 15 miles from Las Vegas, NM. It is part of a larger land grant that William shares with about 84 other people, most of whom are family or extended family (as we mentioned, his family has been on this land since it was Mexico–over 7 generations ago). The land (roughly 5,000 acres) encompasses a canyon through which the Gallinas river flows.

Separate from their stake in the land grant, Ginny and William personally own 317 acres. They maintain several structures in the valley where they care for some cows,

chop wood,

maintain fences,

and tend an orchard (pears, apples, quince, grapes, and raspberries)

The cows had found their way into the orchard and left their mark. William told us that there’s always a fence to mend or a ditch to clear.

The orchard is flood irrigated with an acequia system built in 1841. Acequias are man-made ditches that divert water upstream from a river. The dirt channel has a perfect box-like shape and seems more sculpted than a “ditch.” None the less, they are referred to as ditches. There are lateral ditches that branch off the acequia madre or, mother ditch.

Mother Ditch. Yes. We like the sound of that.

Acequias are inherently dependent on community cooperation– channels need to be cleared and maintained every year and agreements have to be struck as to what an equitable distribution of the common resource will be. Everyone who draws from the system is expected to help with he maintenance. This technology dates back to the eighth century and was introduced to the Spanish by the Moors. By using gates, one can control and conserve water. The orchard is flooded with about four inches of water every two weeks during growing season. William focuses much of his energy around issues of water preservation, education, and rights. The further we travel into the west, the more ubiquitous this discussion is. Water (or lack of it) in the west drives everything from politics to economic viability to environmental sustainability. While it seems obvious that this would be an issue in the high desert, historic decrees and present day politics ensnare what should be common sense decisions into protracted debates. We were impressed by what seemed to be a keen community-wide awareness of the need for grassroots activism to make sure the best decisions are put into practice. Here’s a link to more information about acequias:

At one point, around three thousand people lived in the valley. William’s grandfather lived here and his father was born in a house like this:

Zorrita followed us everywhere. She is very protective.

There are amazing ruins throughout the valley. The walls used to be adobe, but now all the mud has washed away. The stone work is incredible.

William and Ginny have found numerous spearpoints, arrow heads, pottery shards and tools. They told us that the best way to find stuff was “to look for something that seems out of place.” We spent a few hours chilling out and looking for clues.

BA and Chele were pretty clueless (above:  Chele is obsessed with investigating a scene where the bluejay got ‘et) but William found numerous shards.

The find of the day was a piece of pottery (about 3×4 inches) with a pressed pattern that looked like basket weave. Usually, Ginny and William leave their finds in the field, but that piece was so amazing that we insisted they bring it along so that it would stay intact.  (Artists. They are so precious about everything)

There are a few inhabitable structures in the valley, but no one lives there full time. There is no electricity and having it installed wold be cost prohibitive. Las Veags is at 6,00 feet above sea level, and to get to the valley, you travel a rough trail down switchbacks to about 5,700 feet. Of the 84 vested parties, only a handful make use of the land. William was the first child in his family to be born in a hospital after his family moved into town and started commuting to the ranch. While growing up, however, he spent his summers living full time in he valley. Ginny and William  have painstakingly restored one of the original stone structures. It has one bedroom, a living-room with a wood stove for heat, a full kitchen with a stove, fridge and water heater that run on propane and a generator for lights. Ginny’s favorite upgrade is indoor plumbing…making the outhouse a relic of the past:

Ginny made chili (while William employed his tortilla warming technique)

and BA and Chele shucked chicos:

Chicos are made from small ears of sweet corn. The corn is steamed in an horno (an adobe, wood stoked oven) then dried for storage. The steaming/drying in the horno gives the corn a smoky flavor when it is reconstituted. We were told to mix a half cup of chicos with two cups of pinto beans for  a delicious and authentic dish. We say yes to chicos.

William and Ginny take produce and flowers to the farmers market in the spring, summer, and fall. The seeds from produce and flowers are saved for the next year’s planting. William tried to find some black hollyhock seeds for BA. None of the (many, many) bags are marked and we wonder what will come up.

William’s brother Sonny was working the future alfalfa field when we got back from the ruins and he and his wife Virginia joined us for dinner.

It was a fabulous day.

The only thing we didn’t do was steal this bob-tailed dog.

She belonged to someone else in the valley, but we thought she’d love San Diego. Chele named her Elma.

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